The Equality Act, which was recently re-proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, really should be re-named the “George Orwell Told You So” Act. If passed, it will prove once again that “all animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she plans to pass the bill this session in the Democratically controlled House, where junior social-justice warriors wish to enshrine themselves in the civil rights movement.
But far from encouraging real civil rights, this bill would create a new official sexual anthropology, to be enforced with no religious-liberty or scientific free-speech exemptions. The enforcement of this new vision of humankind would come at the expense of women and girls, and of religious minorities, including many immigrants and low-income people from cultures and classes that have been historically underrepresented among American elites. Those seeking to express or research other traditions of sex, love, and family would be at risk of illegal sex-stereotyping. This law would censor and penalize anyone who does not agree with the secular American ideology of sex that it codifies.
One hopes the Republican Senate will stand firmly against it.
By redefining “sex,” a basic term of human discourse, the bill would create a new official vocabulary to be policed by an administrative state, with flagrant disregard for religious pluralism—and biology. Its twisting of language evokes the totalitarian vocabulary of Newspeak in Orwell’s 1984. There, too, language was changed to ensure social control.
The act would require adherence to its new view of sex and gender (characterized by self-defined “orientation” and “expression”) in public accommodations. This would certainly include educational institutions receiving federal student loans, and could potentially include all other public services and programs as well, if the statute is broadly interpreted—as it most certainly will be by left-leaning administrations and the judges they appoint.
Those not accepting the transgenderism that the legislation promotes would be open targets for a modern American parallel to Orwell’s “two-minutes hate.” Today, our hate sessions take place online, as outrage mobs emote against dissidents, ending careers and ruining lives.
Indeed, the Equality Act would officially erase the rights of members of traditional faith communities to publicly make life choices based on anthropologies that do not accept same-sex marriage and transgenderism. Such minority faiths include Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, traditional Islam and Buddhism, and Evangelical Protestantism, whose adherents are often low-income residents of rural areas and have been historically underrepresented in elite American institutions. The Equality Act would impose the anthropology of elite, secular, Eurocentric culture on such traditions. All this would be based on contested science, given that essential categories of sexual orientation and transgender identity remain topics of disagreement even within LGBTQ communities.
In terms of science, the legislation would surely chill scientific debate and constrain medical professionals to speak and act only from an official but contestable point of view. The Act would constrain non-conforming debate and research on issues of sexuality. Scientific dissenters would be professional martyrs in the medical profession, and the quality of health care would suffer from imposed official views on debated issues. The Act would also harm the position of women and girls by allowing transgender women (men who identify as women) to claim rights as females, erasing biological difference.
Forced silence, recantation, or re-education already accompany this legislative movement. The postmodern American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution seeks to eliminate dissidents from professional livelihood in a kind of capitalist career death. The Equality Act would add national police power to efforts already underway to that end. For example:
– A young member of our small non-Western, religious-minority congregation told me recently that he can no longer discuss issues of sexual difference with peers, who label him a hateful bigot due to his Russian Orthodox beliefs about men, women, sex, and marriage.
– Another church friend said that after he publicly signed an online letter in the U.S. opposing ordination of women as deacons in Eastern Orthodox Churches (a longstanding prohibition globally), a professional mentor broke off their relationship and accused him of being motivated by hate.
– At my home university, a “trans-affirming” manifesto circulated recently online, in effect supporting goals of the Equality Act. Many faculty and administrators signed. Yet in referencing neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic killings last year in Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, the statement implicitly associated those murderous acts with those who chose not to sign the statement due to cultural and religious differences, or to scientific or TERF-style dissent.
– In our rural college town of 5,700 people, a Human Relations Ordinance akin to the Equality Act was proposed to fill gaps in state regulations. Yet even after state regulations changed to redefine sex in a way similar to the national bill, proponents of the local ordinance nevertheless continued to champion its passage. They want a locally appointed commission with the power to investigate, enforce, and educate people about the new anthropology in a small town historically dominated by liberal Anglo-Protestantism. The local ordinance has a narrow religious exemption for church bodies, but individuals from religious minorities risk being treated as second-class citizens and labeled hateful deniers of LGBTQ rights.
These examples are all logical extensions of the rhetorical strategy that medicalizes sexual dissent as “homophobia” and “transphobia.” The terms imply that traditional religious and cultural understandings of sex are mental illnesses requiring quarantine and erasure. Today’s sexual mental hygiene echoes anti-religious communist ideology. Hannah Arendt noted that isolation and terror were the building blocks of totalitarianism in the last century.
Echoes of Anti-Religious Totalitarianism
The whole legislative movement strikingly echoes Marxist-Leninist approaches to eradicating religion in the Soviet Union and Red China, among other nations. As historian Dimitry V. Pospielovsky noted in his three-volume A History of Marxist-Leninist Atheism and Soviet Antireligious Policies, “Co-existence between atheistic materialism and the religious interpretation of reality is theoretically and practically impossible. Hostility towards religion is not a matter of contingency, but a profound, fundamental world-view commitment of the official ideology of Communism.”
The work of Pospielovsky and others illustrates how approaches changed—ranging from open persecution to favoring some sects over others and trying to drive a wedge in the majority Orthodox Church by creating a new, more “egalitarian” Living Church. But the underlying goal of the ideology remained the same: to eliminate faith by erasing its anthropology and transmission through families. Scientific debate and professional freedom to work in line with one’s ethical and moral principles also suffered. And the stated goal of equality was not really served with an ideological elite controlling the culture.
In today’s United States, the Equality Act likewise seeks to erase cultural anthropologies other than that of a secular state system. It would marshal police power against sexual dissent and leave minority nonconformists and their children isolated and unprotected against attacks on their livelihoods, communities, and opportunities. In the process, it would undermine the traditional organic church and family networks and voluntary affinity groups that Edmund Burke celebrated as “little platoons” of society, and that Alexis de Tocqueville saw as central to our democracy. Those networks help shape a country in which discrimination resulting from different cultural and philosophical views of love and family in a pluralistic society can be addressed compassionately by private virtue, networking, and friendship, not force.
Today’s militant secular politics offer a substitute for religious experience through sexual “self-discovery.” The ideology includes its own definition and persecution of heretics (such as TERFs), of enemy infidels whose culture needs to be eradicated through the cultural equivalent of war (traditional Christians), and even its own hagiography of martyrs (such as young LGBT people allegedly pushed to suicide or killed due to their sexual identity).
Any such persecution is un-Christian and abhorrent, and any death of a youth is a tragedy to be mourned. Steps should be taken to help prevent such deaths from happening again. But the cases are often complex, as in the tragic death of Matthew Shepard, whose remains are now enshrined in the National Cathedral, but whose end is the subject of competing narratives of bigotry and drug-dealing. In terms of trans youth, studies indicate that the vast majority will desire to revert to their biological sex by their twenties, and that at older ages those who have attempted to change their sex through surgery have a high suicide rate.
Blaming the trouble of any group of youth on any particular cultural tradition, without studies controlling for complex social and psychological factors, is itself a form of bigotry. Such politicization of tragedy does a disservice to the dead as well as to the living, making their deaths the basis for unjustly blocking opportunities for minority children and encouraging their persecution.
By establishing a national anthropology based on an ideology of self rather than embodied sex, the Equality Act would deepen emerging divisions and extremisms, and chill reasoned debate on complex bioethical issues. Wrongly equating forms of family with race, it would pick cultural winners and losers, not offer the inclusion it promises. It will officially silence the Christian message of not essentializing the passions as identity and thus not objectifying people according to their passions, which has had a healing impact on many lives in my own Orthodox Church and other traditions.
Such a new, official anthropology of sex, that would violate fundamental rights of religious freedom and encourage a view of physical reality as subject to human will, would indeed codify Orwell’s terrifying satire. The Equality Act should remind us of its historical roots in anti-religious bias and in the type of disembodied gnostic idealism that, as Eric Voegelin warned, feeds a technocratic totalitarianism. We would do well to remember that such utopian projects, in which, as Orwell said, “Freedom is Slavery,” did not end well.